Wikimedia in education
Exploring the United States and Canada with LiAnna Davis
The Wikimedia Education Program currently spans 60 programs around the world. Students and instructors participate at almost every level of education. Subjects covered include law, medicine, arts, literature, information science, biology, history, psychology, and many others. The Wikimedia in Education Signpost series presents a snapshot of the Wikimedia Global Education Program as it exists in 2014. We interviewed participants and facilitators from the United States and Canada, Serbia, Israel, the Arab World, and Mexico, in addition to the Wikimedia Foundation.
- This interview is with LiAnna Davis, the head of communications for the Wiki Education Foundation.
Can you describe how the Education Program started in the United States?
Public Policy Initiative leaderboard, December 2010
Professor Alex Jones teaching in the Public Policy Initiative at Harvard University
, USA, in 2011
- In 2009, the Wikimedia Foundation had started to see a trend of university faculty members assigning their students to edit Wikipedia as part of their coursework. We invited several of these faculty members and asked them for their advice and feedback about starting a more formal program to support student editing. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the caveat that doing Wikipedia assignments takes much more effort than traditional assignments. So we set out to do a small pilot in fall 2010 to see if a more formal program would work, with Wikipedia Ambassadors available to support the instructors participating. The pilot, called the Public Policy Initiative, was a great success, with student editors improving the quality of Wikipedia articles. We began expanding the program from that term until 2012, when we started the efforts to spin off the United States and Canada programs into their own nonprofit organization. In 2013, the Wiki Education Foundation was born as that organization, an independent spin-off of the Wikimedia Foundation.
How many instructors and students currently participate in the program?
Video of a 2012 presentation by Canadian emergency medicine physician Dr. James Heilman at the University of British Columbia
on how to use Wikipedia in a medical class.
- During the spring 2014 term, 61 instructors and 1,852 student editors participated in the program.
Which areas of the country currently participate?
Ambassador training in Indiana in 2011
- We're spread geographically throughout the U.S. and Canada. See this pdf for a map.
What grade levels are the students who participate?
- First year of undergraduate through last year of Ph.D.
As you probably know, Wikipedia editors are predominantly male in most languages. Approximately what percentage of the students who participate in the United States education program are female?
- Student surveys suggest that our student editors are about 61% female.
How are instructors and students trained to use Wikipedia?
- We encourage all instructors to go through the WP:EDUCATOR orientation, and student editors to go through the WP:STUDENT training. Additionally, we have Wikipedia Ambassadors who are available to support both instructors and student editors. Like most editors, instructors and students ultimately learn by doing, but we've been continually refining these trainings to help them avoid the most common types of newcomer mistakes.
Do students and instructors usually use VisualEditor?
- Some do, but most don't. We explain the options and let them choose. Until recently, the citation features of VisualEditor haven't been mature enough to work well for the kind of work most student editors do, so most of the training and help material has continued to focus on wikitext editing. For the upcoming term, though, we're interested to see if VisualEditor is good enough to make it the recommended way of getting started.
What kinds of assignments do students receive when using Wikipedia in the classroom? For example, are they translating, editing existing articles, or creating new articles? Which languages do they use?
Students editing Wikipedia articles at Cégep de Saint-Hyacinthe
, a college in Quebec
, in 2013. Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking province of Canada.
- Most student editors expand weak articles, but some create new articles. Most of the work happens on English Wikipedia, but we have a handful of student editors who work on their native language Wikipedias instead.
- The most common type of assignment works as a replacement for a typical term paper: student editors begin by exploring Wikipedia's coverage of a topic related to the course, then they start identifying and studying the relevant sources, and then they synthesize that into new Wikipedia content (whether expanding an existing article or starting a new one). But there are a lot of other assignment models as well, from making illustrations, photos or videos to illustrate articles, to short copyediting assignments, to group assignments where several student editors or an entire class try to improve a single article as much as they can.
Has the program received any endorsements from government agencies?
- No, but we do work with initiatives from the Association for Psychological Sciences, the American Sociological Association, and the National Communication Association.
How do you expect the program to develop in the next few years?
- We want to explore the partnerships with academic associations in the future; we see these as keys to scalability and sustainability. Other keys include institutionalizing our program at university campuses. By this, we mean working with existing university structures that provide teaching resource support for faculty members, such as teaching and learning centers. When we train staff members of teaching and learning centers, they do the outreach work to faculty members, and include Wikipedia as a tool in their arsenal, along with blogs and other tools.
- In the fall, we'll begin to explore a pilot to extend Wikipedia to academic honor societies as a way to target high-achieving students in under-represented disciplines on Wikipedia. In coming years, we'd also like to explore more connections with university libraries and archives to connect our program better with GLAM work.
Do you have any statistics or charts showing the growth of articles contributed, number of students, number of professors, number of ambassadors, use of the Education extension, or number of universities for US/CAN?
- One of the benefits of being our own organization is we can set our goals up a bit differently; we want to emphasize quality rather than quantity, so we haven't kept as much up-to-date information on numbers. But that being said, this page has the numbers we've tracked since the beginning.
Is there a way to work backwards from an account through the Education program extension to determine if an account has been associated with a registered class?
- While the term is current (and thus the student is likely active as a student editor for a particular course), the extension places a note on the top of a student's contributions page. Here's an example of what that looks like, from one of our summer classes going on now.
- Once the term is over, that message will disappear. That data is retained in the user logs when the user enrolls in a course, so if you really want to dig, you can find it. But in your example, the edits are happening to articles on your watchlist, so presumably they're happening while the course is active, so you should be able to see it on the student editor's contribs page.
- Here's an example of a student editor who was enrolled in a course that's now over; that banner is not on their contribs page, but it is recorded on their log.
For awhile I was hearing that plagiarism and copyright violations were significant problems among the population of student editors. Has there been any research done to quantify the number of reversions and/or the number of copyright complaints for student editors, hopefully showing a decrease in plagiarism, copyright violations, and reversions over time?
- Wiki Ed's Sage Ross did a study on plagiarism on the English Wikipedia, comparing our students' work to other new users and top editors.
- To get relevant sample sizes for articles in which the majority of content was added by student editors, we had to combine multiple terms into one cohort, so we don't have data tracked over time. That being said, we are really proud that we had zero incidents about Wiki Education Foundation classes on the Education Noticeboard the spring 2014 term, which I think speaks highly about the work Jami, Sage, and our volunteers have done in preparing students to edit effectively.
Has there been any research showing how the retention rates of student editors after their Wikipedia assignments has changed over time?
- We see about a 2% retention of student editors—that hasn't changed much over time. But note that our focus is not and has never been retaining student editors; we'd much rather retain instructors. We invest a lot of time into teaching each instructor how to work with Wikipedia as a teaching tool, but once that instructor knows how to do it, it takes very little time on our end, and the instructor brings a new class of high-quality student contributions to Wikipedia each term. So we track instructor retention instead; here's a slide from Jami's recent WikiConference USA presentation about our instructor retention.
- Is there anything else that you would like Signpost readers to know about the program?
- I think one of the best ways to get a feel for how our program helps Wikipedia is to look through some student editors' work. Here are some examples:
A poster by a University of Toronto
Ph.D. student explains game-like learning elements of the Wikipedia Education Program in 2014
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